The first time I encountered the term was during my elementary years. Our teacher asked us to bring used clothes, toys and books to donate to Badjaos, Maranaos, Tausugs and other indigenous tribe members. The word was soon locked away deep in the recesses of my mind. I was more concerned with touching ball and prikidam back then. I would encounter the term in the next few years only sporadically, usually in history classes.
Badjaos, according to Wikipedia, are an indigenous ethnic group of Malaysia and the southern Philippines. According to ThinkQuest:
The Badjaos are oppressed tribe. They are referred to as palao or lumaan (God forsaken) by the Tausugs. Badjaos developed an inferiority attitude towards the Tausugs and the Samals who always look down on them. Originally, they used to live on the land but the constant pressure on their safety by the other Muslim tribes forced them to seek the sea. They eventually found that the sea afforded them greater avenues of escape in the event of attack.
The Badjao was a faceless countryman until about four weeks ago.
I was riding a jeepney to school when two kids - a girl about eight years old and holding a homemade drum; the other, a boy about five years old; both of them shabby-looking - suddenly rode the jeep. The driver announced gleefully to his designated barker, "O, ayan na ang mga Badjao!"
I didn't need to take his word for it. The kids handed out envelopes with a handwritten message which reads: Kami po ay mga Badjao. After making sure that each passenger had a crumpled white envelope, the girl sat on the jeep's footboard and proceeded to beat on her drums and sing lyrics I couldn't understand. The boy squatted in the middle of the jeep and swayed his hands to the beat. After the song, they retrieved the envelopes, almost all heavy with coins.
But as the weeks passed, the novelty wore off. Fewer passengers put anything in the Badjaos' envelopes. Some passengers even ignored them altogether. The drivers' fascination of these nameless kids turned to irritation. I remember one driver yelling at one Badjao crossing the street, "Tumabi ka dyan Badjao! Sasagasaan kita!" Whether he meant it as a joke or not, I couldn't tell.
Things came to a head this morning. Two Badjao kids rode the jeep that I was on. Before they even proceeded to hand out the envelopes, the driver shouted, "Baba! Baba!"
The kids did as they were told. But before the jeep could accelerate, the two kids screamed invectives at the driver - cuss words that would make Mar Roxas proud.
The Badjaos are not faceless to me anymore. Sadly, in a span of a few short weeks, they have become as jaded as any Manileño could ever be.
Photo: girlpixieshoot, Flickr, Creative Commons